Managing Type 1 Diabetes in Teens

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Smiling father and daughter embracing after driving lesson

It’s hard enough having a teenager without adding type 1 diabetes to the mix. For starters, there’s your teen’s ever-changing schedule, friends, and mood. But adolescents who also have type 1 diabetes face special challenges. Not only do these teens experience the typical social and emotional struggles associated with growing up, but they also must contend with widely fluctuating hormonal changes that affect their diabetes management. Here’s how to deal.

Hormonal Ups and Downs

The same hormones that cause growth spurts in your child can also affect blood sugar. As growth hormone increases during your teen’s early and middle teen years, her body becomes less sensitive to insulin. As a result, high glucose levels are common in teens. When adolescents reach their full growth, these insulin-inhibiting hormones tend to decrease. As a way to compensate for these changes, talk with your doctor about possibly increasing your teen’s insulin during these years.

Is It Adolescence or Diabetes?

In addition to higher blood sugar levels, you may have noticed that your teen tends to have mood swings from time to time. Most parents assume this emotional roller-coaster is a natural part of growing up. But moodiness can also be a symptom of low blood sugar. As a parent, it can be difficult to distinguish whether your teen’s having a hypoglycemic reaction or brooding over a recent conflict with a friend. Sudden behavioral changes, such as crying, anger or irritability should always be suspect if there are no observable reasons for such a reaction. More frequent blood tests might be necessary to rule out low blood sugar.

Create a Forum for Your Teen

Adolescents need a safe place to discuss their struggles about growing up and especially what they go through living with diabetes. Some teens feel comfortable talking with their parents; others do not. But regardless of whether your child talks to you, another family member or a trusted friend they need a forum to express their emotion about the challenges they face.

It’s also important to look for signs of depression in your teen. Though the normal hormonal changes of adolescence do not cause depression, teens with diabetes are more prone to become depressed than those not living with a chronic condition. If you notice any of the common symptoms of depression, consider having your child:

  • Discuss these symptoms with his or her doctor.
  • Talk with a mental health counselor who understands type 1 diabetes. Your doctor should be able to recommend someone in your area.
  • Discuss school-related challenges with the school social worker.

Build Confidence and Competence

Part of living with diabetes as a teen is learning to gradually take over the daily management of her condition. When a teen feels as though diabetes runs her life, she’s less likely to feel motivated to follower her diabetes management plan. As a parent, your goal is to empower your child by showing her that her choices and decisions matter.

One way to do this is let her be part of the decision-making process as it applies to balancing her lifestyle with insulin therapy, glucose testing, meals, and exercise. The discussion should focus on when (not whether) she does these things.

This can be more of a challenge for some families than others. Tap into the resources available to you (including your healthcare team). Helping your teen build ownership over her diabetes management is a valuable skill she will need for the rest of her life.

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